Interview: Research Careers Beyond Academia

This is the second of a two-part interview with me on Mendeley. The following is an excerpt on the positives of working as a research consultant on equity and diversity workplace issues, and the benefits of research to other industries.

The positives are that I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing my impact on organisations. I generally work for small businesses and nonprofits: it makes a world of difference to them to explain research, which can be quite dense, and turn it into practical outcomes for them. I see my work adopted quickly, rather than have a publication go through the peer review process.

There’s also an intellectual reward in finding new ways of communicating research skills; I enjoy engaging with clients. One of the big surprises has been not just positive interactions with clients but also with their audiences: there’s a lot of pluses that come out of interacting with new groups who really need that scientific input presented in a digestible way.

Stigma and benefits 

A lot of researchers feel that a non-academic role is a consolation prize, hence, there’s a lot of stigma around considering a non-academic role. There are sociologists who I look up to, who have known me since I was student, who still ask when I’ll come back to academia. The underlying assumption behind their query is that such a return is the only way in which I can be truly recognised.

Yet everyone knows how hard it is to get a tenure track role, but we maintain this illusion that this is the only way we can have a fulfilling job. I advise researchers to look beyond the stigma: once you step off the academic track, there’s a world of opportunities. I’ve done work with government, I’ve led a research team investigating environmental health and safety, I’ve worked with nonprofits. I come to my career with the knowledge that there is a lot of fluidity in what I can do. I may do a lot of consulting for a while, and then go back into working for a traditional research organisation.

Researchers should know: our skills are highly valued outside academia, we need to learn how to market them. We should find a way to show to clients and employers how those research skills can be useful. If you can master that, potential employers and clients will give you amazing opportunities. For example, I once went to a job interview for a role as a researcher, and based solely on the questions I asked, the employers in question offered me a management role on the spot.

A non-academic career role is nothing to be ashamed of; it is a source of pride that strengthens research impact on society, as it brings knowledge to new sectors. There are many, many organisations which are in dire need of scientific skills and expertise; in the process, you can achieve great progress for a variety of communities.

Read more of this interview on Mendeley Careers: https://www.mendeley.com/careers/article/interview-sociologist-at-work

Learn more

Part 1 of this interview is about my work as a consultant on equity and diversity, and how organisations can embrace more inclusive practices: https://www.mendeley.com/careers/article/interview-sociology-at-work/

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